London (April 11th, 2005)
– Sachsen-Anhalt, one of the poorer and mainly agricultural German Länder,
with 21% unemployment in February, is intending to sue the Federal German
government, alleging that new laws stop biotech. companies from carrying out
local research into genetically-modified crops.
The problem arises because last year the Federal Government enacted legislation allowing farmers claim damages if their non-GM crop were to be cross-pollinated by GM crops grown nearby. Opponents claim the law is vague and makes liability risk so high as effectively to prevent companies operating.
Jens Katzek, the head of Bio Mitteldeutschland GmbH, which promotes the interests of the biotech industry in Sachsen-Anhalt pointed out that the “…Federal constitution guarantees freedom of research and freedom of entrepreneurship. an agricultural area that had 21 percent unemployment in February. “A law making it impossible to apply a technology violates both those freedoms.''
Syngenta, based in Basel, has suspended German field trials and consolidated its biotech research in the U.S., partly because of public resistance and restrictive laws in Europe. “We want to do research where the market for the products is,'' said Markus Payer, spokesman for Syngenta, the world's biggest maker of crop chemicals.
According to Jeannine Kallert, a spokeswoman for Sachsen-Anhalt's Ministry of Economic Affairs, the lawsuit was to be filed on April 12th, That is also the first day of the BioVision World Life Sciences Forum, a meeting of company executives, protest groups and policy makers.
Katzek intended to use the forum to argue for a loosening of the laws. “We want to stand up and say what we think,'' she said. “The opposition is always … saying they don't want it. Our region has strength in the sector and we do want it.''
Located in the former East Germany, Sachsen-Anhalt is home to the Federal Centre of Breeding Research on Cultivated Plants and the Leibniz Institutes of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research. The region had a gross domestic product of € 44.2 billion in 2003, compared with a GDP of more than 10 times that in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany's richest state.
“Argentina was almost bankrupt a couple of years ago and they've been able to benefit from investment,'' Katzek said. “We want this positive economic impact too.''
However, according to a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, the Federal Government expects the suit to be dismissed
The legal position
German law says farmers can claim damages if their non-GM crop is contaminated and they are either unable to sell it or realise less than the full market value. All neighbouring farmers can be held liable if the source of the cross-pollination is unclear. It also requires a publicly available register that will show where GM crops are cultivated.
“They put so many additional burdens on the EU directive that, from a practical point of view, the law is prohibiting plant biotechnology,'' said Katzek. `”A farmer growing GM crops may have followed the rules and good farming practices, but he has to prove that he is absolutely innocent which is, of course, impossible.''
German state to sue government over GM laws as industry meets. Bloomberg (April 11th, 2005) (http://quote.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000080&sid=a1tp77edYwQ0)